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John G. Wright

Leon Sedov

(January 1944)

From Fourth International, Vol.5 No.2, February 1944, pp.54-55.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Six years ago, on February 16, 1938, Leon Sedov, the oldest son of Natalia Sedov Trotsky and Leon Trotsky, died in a Parisian hospital where he had undergone an operation for appendicitis.

Leon Sedov belonged to a great and heroic generation of the revolutionary youth to whom the world is incalculably indebted. He was a true child of the Russian revolution. He was born on Febmary 24, 1906. His father, Leon Trotsky received the news of his son’s birth in a Czarist prison where he had been incarcerated for his leading role as Chairman of the Petersburg Soviet in the 1905 revolution. Thirteen months later Trotsky escaped from Siberia and together with his family spent the next ten years in exile abroad.

Leon’s childhood years were the years of Czarist reaction, of imperialist preparation for war, and the actual outbreak of the first world slaughter. When Czarism was overthrown in Russia in February 1917, he was only 12 years old. He returned with his parents to revolutionary Petrograd. Thenceforth his entire conscious life became inextricably bound up with the greatest liberationist movement in the history of mankind. Sedov never faltered in his loyalty to the principles and program of October.

Too young to fight in the front lines during the civil war of 1918-1921, he found his place in the ranks of the Komsomol (the Russian Young Communist League) which he joined in 1919, becoming one of its outstanding activists.

In 1923 when Lenin was already on his deathbed, the struggle began against the bureaucratic degeneration of the Bolshevik party which ultimately led to the destruction of the Communist International. If the degeneration and collapse of the Communist (Third) International did not catch the world vanguard unprepared, it was above all due to the heroic struggle of the young Soviet workers who constituted the overwhelming majority of the Russian Left Opposition, and one of whose outstanding leaders was Leon Sedov. The struggle of the Russian Left Opposition preserved the continuity of the revolutionary socialist movement, and made possible the timely reconstitution of the world movement in the Fourth International.

At the same time this struggle profoundly influenced the course of events in the Soviet Union. The bureaucratic degeneration of the workers’ state stemmed, externally, from the defeats of the proletarian revolution in western Europe, and the consequent isolation of the USSR. Internally, it stemmed from the country’s backwardness, inherited from Czarism, and the devastation of the years of imperialist and civil war. Under these conditions the state apparatus infiltrated with tens of thousands of former Czarist functionaries began to progressively degenerate, and this process was transmitted into the ranks of the governing Russian party.

What They Contributed

The only force that opposed this reactionary development was the Russian Left Opposition, under Trotsky’s leadership. From the outset Leon Sedov took his place in its ranks. Future historians alone will be able to appraise fully the meaning and importance of this five years’ struggle (from 1923 to 1928) against unprecedented odds waged by the isolated proletarian vanguard in Soviet Russia. But it is already clear today that the credit for the introduction of planned economy and the subsequent industrialization of the USSR belongs first and foremost to the Russian Left Opposition. Stalin found himself compelled to adopt its program of industrialization. It was applied with monstrous bureaucratic distortions. But this does not invalidate the great contribution of the Russian Left Opposition; on the contrary, it serves only to underscore the vast possibilities that planned economy opens up for mankind. The unprecedented economic successes of backward Russia under Stalinist misleadership are the harbingers of what the advanced workers of Europe and America will be able to achieve under a regime of genuine workers’ democracy. In paying tribute to the memory of Leon Sedov we are at the same time taking cognizance of what we owe to the entire generation of the young proletarian fighters of the Russian Left Opposition.

Throughout this epic struggle, Sedov remained at Trotsky’s side, carrying out manifold tasks. When Trotsky was exiled to Alma Ata in 1928, Sedov followed him unhesitatingly breaking with his young family. “He acted,” wrote Leon Trotsky, “not only as a son but above all as a co-thinker: It was necessary at all costs to maintain our connections with Moscow.” Sedov played an irreplaceable role in this period, assisting in the work, maintaining connections, serving in place of the secretariat of which Trotsky had been deprived by Stalin.

When Trotsky was exiled to Turkey in 1929, Sedov again accompanied him without hesitation. Collaboration demanded a rigorous division of labor. Sedov, now a man of outstanding talents and independent stature, subordinated himself selflessly and consciously to the task at hand. He wrote little in his own name. That was not because he lacked the ability or talents, but because of the pressure of other work. The few things he did write belong among the most valuable contributions of the Trotskyist movement.

Of his writings only one has been translated into English. This is his exposure of Stalinist falsifications of the history of the Red Army. This brilliant article is included under the name of N. Markin in Leon Trotsky’s The Stalin School of Falsification.” Sedov’s other two major contributions deal with an analysis of Stakhanovism, and with an exposure of the Moscow frameup trials. The latter was the first public answer to the Stalinist criminals. For at that time the Norwegian authorities submitted to the pressure of the Kremlin and prevented Trotsky from making any public reply by keeping him as a virtual prisoner and then deporting him to Mexico. Sedov’s book, The Moscow Trial, was mistakenly assumed by the capitalist press to have been written by Trotsky.

Son, Friend, Fighter

In summing up this period of collaboration with Sedov, Trotsky wrote:

“This collaboration was made possible only because our ideological solidarity had entered into our very blood and marrow: beginning with 1928 his name ought to be rightfully placed alongside of mine on almost all the books I have written since 1928.” (Leon Sedov — Son, Friend, Fighter, by Leon Trotsky.)

From July 1929 until the day he died, Sedov served as the editor of the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition, the only Russian organ of genuine Bolshevism since Lenin’s death.

The last years of his life Sedov spent working in Berlin and Paris. He remained in Germany for several weeks after Hitler came to power. In Paris he worked under the continual surveillance of the GPU.

The criminals and traitors in the Kremlin never for a moment underestimated the role and importance of Leon Sedov. Stalin spared no efforts to besmirch his name. GPU spies and assassins dogged his every step. They laid trap after trap to kill him. In the infamous Moscow frameups, Sedov’s name invariably figured side by side with that of Leon Trotsky. Stalin’s “judges” condemned both of them in absentia to death. Stalin’s assassins carried out this assignment. They murdered Sedov in Paris in 1938.

He died in the flower of his manhood, deprived of the opportunity to play the great role that was destined to be his in the decisive battles of our generation. His name, his memory and the great tradition he symbolizes remain indelibly inscribed on the spotless banner of the Fourth International which he did so much to found and build.

Last updated: 28.8.2008